Review: Maniac

Elijah Wood has officially made himself terrifying. If I ever met this character in real life, I would probably sprint down the street in the opposite direction.

In Maniac, Wood plays Frank, a quiet loner who restores antique mannequins (I know, you’re creeped out already). Frank, to no surprise, has a ton of mommy issues and a deep psychosis. He also stalks the streets of Los Angeles by night, looking for women to terrorize and eventually scalp, bringing their hair back to create girlfriends and companions for himself.
Really, the plot of the remake doesn’t differ terribly from the original.

While not at the top of my list of slasher faves, the original Maniac is an interesting entry into the subgenre. It came out in 1980, at the height of the slasher craze, but offered something a little different from many of its contemporaries. Rather than a masked killer stalking an unsuspecting group of teenagers, or one of the who-done-it flicks of that era, in Maniac, the audience actually gets to spend a sizeable amount of time with the killer. This perspective is what sets this flick apart from the rest of its slasher brethren. The killer is not unknown to us. In fact, co-writer and star Joe Spinell specifically wanted to give audiences insight into Frank’s head (which, I assure you, is a creepy-ass place to be). A lot of emphasis was placed on developing and displaying the character’s psychosis – a story trait that was also carried over into the new version.

The remake, written by Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur and directed by Franck Khalfoun, approaches the story from a similar perspective, but takes it a step further. The film is shot almost entirely from the first person perspective of Frank (Elijah Wood). We follow him throughout the story, seeing the events unfold literally through his eyes. With a couple of exceptions, we only catch glimpses of him through reflections.

For the most part, it worked really well. It offered an unsettling perspective to both this story and to this character, as you, the audience, are asked to come along as a willing partner in his deeds. It is a fascinating way to further the tradition of the subjective gaze in the slasher genre. Not only are you consenting, in a way, to Frank’s nightly activities just by sitting down to watch the film, you are a willing participant in them as well.

This has been a tried and true tradition of slasher films, dating back to 1960 with Peeping Tom and with Psycho. The stylistic choices in these two films went on to influence the onslaught of horror films that emerged in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s.

Khalfoun broke with this style during a couple of the more brutal kill sequences – I’m not certain if it was to give the viewer a better view of the action, or to cut the tension and create a separation between Frank and the audience during the particularly violent moments, though my money would be on the latter.

Elijah Wood is great in the lead role. Even though you don’t see much of him, he still manages to embody the character and convey so much about Frank’s fractured psyche to the audience. His semi-antiquated speech patterns and his overly kind, yet somewhat flat intonation give the character an altogether unsettling quality. What he did with his inflection and delivery went a long way in developing a character that we barely see.

And the score. THE SCORE! It’s wicked-awesome! Composed by Rob, this flick boasts music that is both 80’s synthtastic, and deeply unnerving. It sets the scene amazingly well.

While Maniac might not be a title that is well-known beyond the horror fiends, it is one that could easily have suffered from the standard, uninspired remake syndrome. A lot of the creative choices that went into this story did an excellent job in preventing that. Watching this film, it doesn’t feel like one you have seen a thousand times over, even though, at it’s core, it’s just another violent serial killer story.

I definitely recommend this flick if you’re in the mood for an unsettling piece of horror. Maniac is now available through VOD, and William Lustig’s original film can be picked up on DVD and Blu-ray.

SIFF Review: Cheap Thrills

The Seattle International Film Festival wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, and I wanted to take a minute to share a few thoughts on the last film I was able to check out – Cheap Thrills.

Cheap Thrills is the directorial debut of E.L. Katz, who had previously written the horror comedy Autopsy. It follows Craig (Pat Healy), happily married family man with a lovely wife, beautiful baby and plenty of money woes. This particular evening sees him newly laid-off and facing eviction. Unsure of what to do, he heads to a bar, where he happens to bump into an old friend – Vince (Ethan Embry). The two share some drinks, reminisce, and attempt to take Craig’s mind off of his troubles. Soon, they meet a wealthy couple (played to hilarity and bizarreness by David Koechner and Sara Paxton) who begin to pass the time by offering the duo increasingly large amounts of money to perform increasingly bizarre acts. Sort of like that thing Morgan Spurlock used to do on MTV.
 
Cheap Thrills is a pitch black comedy that offers outrageous depravity and social commentary in equal measures. With every beat that brings something increasingly violent or grotesque, we also see another statement on capitalism, morality, self-worth and friendship. This film gives as good as it gets, and manages to be sickly thrilling and morally challenging, all at the same time.

Pat Healy has been involved in some really interesting projects lately, and Cheap Thrills is no exception. And his turn as Craig is incredible. The further down the rabbit hole he goes with these dares, the more we see his vulnerability and desperation on display. And it’s an interesting corner for his character to turn. At the beginning, he’s just sort of this sad sack that we felt sorry for, but as time goes on, that empathy turns into something else, as we watch him sink further and further in the name of supporting his family. David Koechner balances his character’s buffoonery and intimidation perfectly, and is able to turn on a dime, when the scene calls for it. And Ethan Embry is fantastic – part buddy, part competitor, part straight-up douchebag. You really love seeing all of these characters interacting together, even though you’re wincing at the scene the entire time.

As much as I loved this film, it was clearly not for everybody. My very very favorite part of the evening was leaving the theater and being stuck behind two old ladies on the way out the door. They were joined at the entrance by some family members, and were stating that this was the absolute WORST movie they had ever seen, and that they had walked out somewhere in the middle. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is!

Cheap Thrills was a huge hit at SXSW earlier this year, and it was a huge hit with me, even though much of my audience disagreed (or just wasn’t sure how to take it). It was picked up by Drafthouse Films and will be released later this year.

Dual Review!!! Monster Popcorn and Horrorella Take on Man of Steel

We have a special treat for you today! Ben McBride from Monster Popcorn and I are teaming up (as all good superheroes do, from time to time) to bring you two badass reviews for the price of one! I’ll kick it off, and Ben will follow up with his thoughts below. Enjoy!

Reactions to Man of Steel have been sharply divisive. Everyone seems to have a strikingly different reaction to the movie, based on their perception of the material and how they feel the story should be told. Regardless of your own particular feelings, it makes for a fascinating discussion.

So before I dive in, I feel like I should tell you where I’m coming from in regards to the whole Superman thing. Truth be told, I’m not really that into him. Never have been.  I’m sure that makes me some sort of a raging commie and I should probably just defect and get it over with, but that’s just the way I feel.

He’s just never done it for me. He is just so fucking Good. All the time. Pure apple pie. A total boyscout. I’ve always found him to be boring. And granted, I’ve never jumped into the mythos, but on the surface, he just doesn’t seem to offer much.

I have seen most (all? not quite sure of that one) of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, but the only parts I really remember are Clark racing a train, Lois Lane talking about her underwear, and Superman making the Earth spin backwards (after this weekend, it might be time to revisit that one). I saw Bryan Singer’s take on the character in 2006 with Superman Returns and really didn’t give two shits. The only thing I remember from that one was Kevin Spacey’s plan to make gigantic rocks for a reason that I don’t even really remember.

So that’s where I’m coming to this from. A pretty standard level of cannon knowledge and a complete lack of interest.

And I have to say…I liked it. The film had some flaws, sure, and I wasn’t head over heels, but frankly, I probably never would have been. Superman just isn’t a character that I find to be terribly compelling. But this story and incarnation are the most engaged I have ever been in this property, and I found myself enjoying it.

Here’s the story: We start at the beginning with Kal-El (Henry Cavill) being born on Krypton (Krypton looks AWESOME, by the way). His birth is something of a miracle in and of itself, as the residents of Krypton have not been birthed naturally in quite some time. Each individual is genetically bred with specific designs and intentions – to be scientists, leaders, warriors, ditch diggers, etc. But Krypton is a dying planet. So in order to ensure that their son has the opportunity to live and choose to be who he wants, and to in some way ensure  the survival of their species, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) send their infant son away. He crash lands in Kansas and is found by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), where he is raised here, among us, struggling with the knowledge that he is different, yet not understanding why. Years later, he is followed to Earth by General Zod (Michael Shannon), whose sole purpose in life (thanks to the genetic breeding thing), is to defend Krypton. For spoiler-y reasons that I won’t delve into here, Clark stands in the way of his plans, and must decide whether he wants to join what remains of his people, or defend the planet that has become his home. (I’m sure you can guess which option he picks)

I think Zack Snyder is a great director. He has a fantastic eye and I love the look of his films. And visually, Man of Steel was no exception. The action was a lot of fun and the scenes on Krypton were stunning. Suckerpunch proved to me that he just isn’t a great storyteller all on his own. He’s kind of a like a kid with ADHD, who can’t focus and gets overwhelmed by his thousands of ideas. He needs a strong writer who keep him tethered and to keep his story focused. Enter David Goyer and Christopher Nolan. With Goyer’s script and Nolan’s guidance, Snyder was able to shoot the kind of story that needed to be told, rather than one completely drowning in its own bloat. And while the story wasn’t perfect (it got a bit messy in the middle, and the pacing suffered as a result), it was still fun.

The biggest gripe I had with the film was the way they opted to structure the story. Rather than tell everything in chronological order, Snyder opted to give us Kal-El’s backstory in chunks inserted throughout the rest of the film. And I can totally understand why – it enabled them to tell this story that we all know while still making it feel like something we hadn’t seen before, rather than just regurgitating the same movie all over again.

The downside to this is that it left us without any character motivation in the beginning of the film, which I found to be frustratingly lazy. Five minutes into the movie, Clark is saving people off of a burning oil rig, and we have no idea why. It relies on the fact that we know he’s Superman, and that’s just what he does (even though he isn’t really Superman yet). And I understand that this character is such a part of American mythos that some of that is to be expected, but I felt like they used it as a crutch here.

And at times, things just happened a little too quickly and without adequate support. Clark first discovering and then embracing his destiny, for one. I would have liked to have had that scene stretched a bit and allowed us to see him grappling with these new revelations – his parents, the destruction of his home world, the reasons he is so different from everybody else – before finally deciding to embrace his destiny. The romance between Superman and Lois had similar issues. It sort of comes out of nowhere and isn’t really supported by anything other than “Superman and Lois are a thing – everybody knows that.”

But gripes aside, there was a lot that I found to love about this film.

I really thought that Henry Cavill was great in the title role. As spotty as Clark was in the beginning of the film, once the transition to Superman took place, Cavill was spot-on. He had the look, the voice, the delivery – I had no trouble believing he was this legendary figure.

Every scene with Kevin Costner in it was golden. He was spectacular – I wish he could have been in the entire movie. His embodiment of Jonathan Kent as Clark’s father was touching. He knows that Clark’s presence on Earth has to mean something, yet his protective nature takes over and he fears what Clark revealing the nature of himself and his powers to humanity will mean for the son that he cares about.

Michael Shannon was fantastic as Zod (but duh – he’s fantastic in everything). I loved how he conveyed both Zod’s destructive nature and his ingrained desperation to save his world. I also enjoyed Amy Adams as Lois Lane. She gave the character her trademark pluck, but managed to ground her in a realistic strength. There were a couple of scenes that she felt rather forced into, but nothing that ever really ruined her presence.

I also loved the way they took some of the classic elements from the Superman mythos and found a way to insert them into the story in a non-cheesy way. In an age where superheroes have become darker and more gritty, these are the details that sometimes struggle to find a home. But they did a good job at integrating everything. Example: His suit is a relic of Krypton – something everyone wears and that has the symbol of their house on the chest.

At the end of the day, Superman is never going to be my fave. He’s virtually indestructible and he’s the kind of hero that steps back and says “No, no, Ma’am. No need to thank me. All in a day’s work.” But even with that, I still liked this flick, and enjoyed Snyder’s take on the character. And I am excited for the next chapter in the Man of Steel story.

Now, on to Ben’s review. And remember to check out more of his stuff over at Monster Popcorn!

 Movie franchise reboots are commonplace today whether we like them or not.  Some of them I’m not in favor of (cough cough Amazing Spider-Man) and others offer new life into a franchise allowing for new and hopefully unexplored storylines to be presented to audiences.  Superman has never been a character that I feel beholden to and a reboot of the Superman franchise was probably in order given the fact that so little of the Superman movies are actually any good (though I do love Superman III just not for the right reasons).  Man of Steel takes the Superman mythos and creates a good jumping off point for future Superman movies and for the potential integration of other superheroes into the DC Comics universe.

Director Zack Snyder and writer David Goyer do an admirable job in creating a Superman origin movie that doesn’t feel like it is a slave to reiterating the material we all know about Superman in order to set up this new take on the character.  The filmmakers decided to take a non-linear approach to the story allowing the events of the present to be juxtaposed against that of Clark Kent’s past, informing the audience of how Superman’s upbringing has made him who he is today.  This is great in that it doesn’t front load the movie with all the familiar beats that we would expect from a linear superhero story.  Unfortunately, it does affect the pacing some and makes the movie feel like it takes some time to ramp up to the fun superhero action.

The movie starts off on Krypton with Jor-El and wife Lara having given birth to Kal-El.  The destruction of Krypton is imminent and the parents must send their child off to another planet in hopes of survival.  This story element is not new to the Superman (movie) mythology but what becomes unexpected is that the opening of the movie stays on Krypton for a fairly significant amount of time allowing the audience to see the planet, the technology and societal roles of the Kryptonians, the animal life (well, just one animal is all I remember seeing) and much more of Jor-El than we’ve seen before.  It’s some pretty fun sci-fi and could make for its own movie should they want to go back and tell the story of Superman’s father.

I was actually kind of surprised by how much sci-fi was present in Man of Steel.  It’s an element of the previous Superman movies that was always kind of there but didn’t seem to take hold of the story much.  I know Superman is an alien but he has never really managed to feel like an alien to me in previous movies.  He’s always come off as just a superhero that happens to be from another planet but easily fits in with society.  In Man of Steel, his alien origin is what makes him an outsider for much of the movie and is the reason his adopted parents, the Kents, caution him on being discovered.  Clark is taught to hide that side of him because the real world would not understand him and would look at him in fear.  These are all things that have been highlighted in past movies but they seem to hit home more so in Man of Steel than in any previous incarnation.   When Clark is forced to reveal his identity to the world, he is met with uncertainty, skepticism and distrust.  He’s only really given the chance to be trusted because the US government’s hand is forced by an overzealous General Zod.  This outsider aspect to Clark is what helps give the character some relatablity and makes his acceptance of himself and rise to hero status more involving.

When Clark does embrace his destiny as Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, and dons the suit, the movie ramps up with lots of spectacular action.  Snyder does an incredible job in creating awesome visuals and action that is befitting of a superhero.  The fights between Zod and Superman are big and lead to massive amounts of destruction.  Hell, analysts have taken a look at the movie and figured that there is about $750 billion dollars in damages made by the disastrous fights between Superman and Zod’s army.  While all that destruction is fun to watch, it does start to become redundant after Superman or Zod get thrown through building after building after building.  The action also ends up lacking some because the stakes aren’t as high. Throwing Superman through a building isn’t really going to affect him.  He’s essentially indestructible and doesn’t easily get hurt so it’s like watching people trading empty blows.

On top of that, and more importantly, is that with all of the destruction seen on the screen (Metropolis is practically leveled in the big fight) comes tons of human deaths.  Superman is all about protecting humans from Zod and his Kryptonian army but he doesn’t bat an eye as Metropolis falls to the ground around him with people inside the buildings and on the streets being crushed by falling debris.  There is even a fighter earlier in the movie in Smallville where Superman tells the townspeople to get inside the buildings for safety but then partakes in destroying the town while fighting bad guys.  The action is fun but it also works against the character of Superman, a protector, in these ways.

The cast of Man of Steel are all pretty strong.  Henry Cavill definitely looks the part and plays a fine Superman.  Michael Shannon stands out as Zod, playing him with an evil gusto that makes for a pretty strong villain.  Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is the tenacious reporter you’d expect but she gets to play her as a more proactive victim than in the past.  Kevin Costner is excellent as Jonathan Kent and even though his screen time is minimal, he makes it count.  I really enjoyed watching Russell Crowe as Jor-El and it was cool seeing Crowe partaking in the sci-fi/superhero genre in a big way.

I found Man of Steel to be mostly entertaining and a good start to a new series of Superman movies.  It has its flaws and a run time that could have been managed a little more efficiently but it makes me excited to see what comes next.  The problem with the Superman movies is that I feel like we haven’t really seen anything all that new.  The action in Man of Steel is a large step up in terms of superheroey violence but I tire of the villains used in these movies.  We’ve seen Zod before, granted this new version is a lot more interesting, and it’s inevitable that Lex Luthor, one of the staples of the Superman comic, shows up in the sequel or the film after that, but we’ve seen Luthor in just about every Superman movie to date excluding this new one.  I want to see a Superman movie with a villain we have yet to see on the big screen, like Brainiac or Doomsday.  I think Man of Steel succeeds in breathing new life into the Superman franchise and provides a good basis for which to improve upon.  I hope they bring their A-game and knock Man of Steel 2 out of the park.

Review: Hatchet III

Hatchet III is the latest (and final?) chapter in the legend of Victor Crowley. This entry was written and produced by creator Adam Green, but he handed the directing reigns over to B.J. McDonald (camera operator on Hatchet and Hatchet II).

Hatchet III picks up exactly where Hatchet II left off, with Marybeth Dunstan (played by the always awesome Danielle Harris) leaving the scene where she brutally laid waste to restless Crowley, and stumbling into the sheriff’s station, mumbling “I killed him.” As she wasn’t terribly responsive after that, an EMT team and several members of the sheriff’s department head back out to Honey Island Swamp to survey the damage. With so many new victims wandering around, it’s only a matter of time before Crowley rises again and gets back to his old habits.

As much fun as I had with Hatchet and Hatchet II, I found Hatchet III to be something of a disappointment. Actually, a pretty big disappointment. I have really enjoyed the first two entries into the series – they are a blast to watch, and whole-heartedly embrace the gore and the glee of the slasher era. Adam Green knows that a big chunk of the reason that audiences return to slasher films is the kills, so, he hands that to us on a silver platter, giggling like a kid at Christmas the entire time. It’s always been fun, and the films have always had a great sense of humor.

Until now. Hatchet III just wasn’t fun. Sure, the kills were over-the-top and grotesque, but they were offset by the fact that everything in between the kills was just boring. The plot just sort of plodded along, mostly being conveyed through dialogue. There characters were all wooden an uninteresting, and much of the humor had disappeared. I don’t know if they were trying to play it straight, or if they were just bored.

One of the things that the series really embraced (and that worked well for it) was its sense of self-awareness. It was never a parody, but it would give you a knowing wink and laugh right along with the audience. It was clear that everyone involved knew what they were participating in and were determined to have fun with it. With the exception of a couple of instances, that is gone from the latest film.

Additionally, they weren’t really able to expand the legend of Victor Crowley any further. I liked how they established this campfire story in the first film, and were able to build on it in the second, without rewriting or changing anything that we had come to know about the character or the story. Here, they seem to have hit a wall, in that respect. No new information was gleaned about Victor Crowley, aside from what we perceive to be an airtight way to finally lay him to rest (which really wasn’t that interesting anyway).

This was just a disappointing run. It didn’t have the same energy as its predecessors, and the entire thing just felt tired. If you haven’t yet checked out the Hatchet series, I do recommend you give the first two a viewing. They are a love letter to horror and cheesy violence and the perfect Saturday night entertainment. Maybe just skip the last installment.

Hatchet III is now available on VOD.

Review: V/H/S/2

I love that the anthology film is making a comeback. It’s really a great format for horror, offering a ton of space for flexibility and creativity. And it offers the opportunity to tell stories that might not necessarily work well in a longer format. And let’s be honest – horror shorts are a blast to watch. Especially from directors like these. And with V/H/S and The ABCs of Death both delivering sequels, it looks to be a format that is once again being embraced by the horror-loving masses.

I’m not going to go into specifics on the various segments – I recommend just going into the film and watching it from cold, not really knowing what kind of tales you are in for. But if you saw V/H/S or are familiar with the format, V/H/S/2 is more of the same. Individual horror shorts built around a first person/found footage perspective, offered up from different noted genre directors. In the sequel, we see several directors from last year’s V/H/S returning to helm more voyages into the macabre (such as Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard), but we also add several new directors into the mix, including Gareth Evans, Edwardo Sanchez, and Jason Eisener. Rest assured that everyone involved brings interesting stories to the mix.

This time around, they kept the run-time shorter (major complaint from some viewers in the first one), offering four pieces, plus the wrap-around segment. They also went a bit lighter in tone, with one piece in particular injecting some humor into the proceedings. This was actually my favorite segment – lots of fun.

True to form were the inventive ways they found to keep the segments true to their found footage concept, but still push the envelope of what was in display and give us something new. It’s not just the typical documentary approach where everyone is running around with cameras glued to their faces for no apparent reason. Much like the Skype gimmick used in the first film, the filmmakers again find new and inventive ways to push the found-footage format.

While I enjoyed the stories on display, I honestly didn’t find this batch to be particularly scary. There were some tense moments, but nothing compared to “Second Honeymoon” or “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” in the first film. Nothing in V/H/S/2 got under my skin like some of the segments from its predecessor (those two shorts in particular creeped me the hell out).

Still though, it was an enjoyable watch. And it did a good job of building on the premise set forth in the original. Early response has indicated that people who weren’t huge fans of the original V/H/S are liking this one more, so if you weren’t into the first round, you might want to consider giving this entry a shot. And if you’re digging the anthology set-up, you should definitely check out the classics. There was a huge wave of anthology films in the 80’s from some of the horror greats (Creepshow, Twilight Zone, Cat’s Eye, etc.), and they are still great fun to watch.

V/H/S/2
is currently available on VOD, and will be doing a limited theatrical run starting July 12th.

Review: This is the End

This is going to be a short review, because the crux of it is going to be that This is the End is the funniest comedy in years and you should go see it right away. I really don’t know what else to say. It was freaking hilarious and I barely stopped laughing for the entire 107 minute run time.
Here’s the story: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, etc. etc. etc. all play exaggerated versions of themselves. Baruchel flies to LA for the weekend to visit Rogen, who talks him to going into a party at James Franco’s new house. In the middle of the party, the Apocalypse hits. And it’s big. The Hollywood Hills are engulfed in flames, a huge hole to Hell opens up in the middle of Franco’s yard, people are being Raptured all over the place. As luck would have it, Rogen and Baruchel manage to avoid the fiery pit, along with Jonah Hill, James Franco, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride. Our core group must now band together to figure out how to survive in this new and terrifying world.

What follows is the best experiment in controlled chaos that I can remember. There were a thousand different ways that this premise could have gone horribly wrong and wound up a stupid, forced failure, but co-writers/directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg managed to avoid them all and turn in something close to perfect. The story, the performances, the writing, the comedic timing – everything just clicks.

The performances, in particular, are all stellar – even the smaller cameo work. Extra applause to Michael Cera – his moments will have you gasping for air. But everyone in this film turns in comedic gold, and all of the actors bounce and play off each other amazingly. The way the actors riff on and play up their reputations and these strange inflated versions of themselves is brilliant. There is so much going on that I’m sure I missed half of it because I was already laughing so hard. But hey – that’s why repeat viewings can be so fun.

It’s a hard-R, it’s foul, it pushes lots of envelopes, it is filled to the brim with cameo performances from everyone you could possibly want to show up in a movie like this, and through it all, it still manages to surprise. I don’t want to go into detail on anything because so much of the fun is sitting in the theater and being caught off-guard by whatever crazy shit comes down the pipe next. I really don’t remember the last time I laughed this hard. This is hand-down the best comedy we have had in years, and you need to check it out.

Review: The Purge

It’s not often we get horror releases in June. With all of the summer tentpole flicks fighting for opening weekend dollars, the smaller genre fare tends to be held off until August. But not this year. This year, we got to take a little break from the CGI-infused high concept movies (which I love, don’t get me wrong) and enjoy something a little more on the suspenseful side.

The Purge is set in the near future where America has found a way to completely eliminate its problems. Crime, poverty and our shitty economy are all essentially gone, because one night each year, all crime (including murder, which is where the story spends 100% of its focus) is legal. This is something that has been embraced whole-heartedly by American culture, and has been adopted as a fruitful and important part of our society. The wealthy spend Purge night holed up in their houses, protected by massive security systems, and on the streets, it’s every man for himself. The film follows the Sandins – a typical American family who have been living comfortably in the wake of the success that James (Ethan Hawke) has had selling home security systems. On this particular Purge night, young Charlie Sandin (Max Burkholder) takes pity on an injured man running through the streets, and disarms the system long enough to offer him sanctuary in their home (these crazy kids and their crazy kid ideas). But no good deed goes unpunished. It doesn’t take long for the man’s pursuers to figure out what happened, and to demand his release from the Sandin home. Should the family refuse, the attackers would be more than happy to force their way in and kill every last person in the house.


While The Purge was born of an interesting premise, its execution was fairly uninspired. It pulled heavily from both Funny Games and The Strangers, which left our villains feeling rather hollow and underwritten. I definitely could have stood to have had our 1% Young Republican Douchebag Leader guy be a little more fleshed out. And rather than going the home invasion route, The Purge ultimately, took more of a siege approach. Personally, I would have been a bit more interested had they gone the home invasion path and let the intruders sneak in quietly, rather than the more military-style full-on attack that they ended up using. Your massive fortress doesn’t look so inviting when danger could be lurking in any of the dozen rooms that you can’t see.

My biggest complaint about movies like The Purge stems from the thing that I love the most about movies like The Purge. And that is that they are based on a novel and interesting concept, and then don’t explore it nearly as much as I would like. The idea of all crime being legal one night a year and the sociological implications that it would have on a body of people is a fascinating thing to consider. How will it play out? How did it come to be? How do the various groups act it out? We get to see through the events of the film how the rich deal with the night, but what about the poor?

Writer/director James DeMonaco did attempt to give us some interesting background pieces to fill in some of these gaps – We got to see that the event was a well-embraced part of modern society (sometimes to an almost religious level). Even those that chose not to participate in it (such as the Sandin family) found it to be an important change that benefited the country. We got to see Purge footage (looking like it was coming in from security cameras) showing various acts of violence on the city streets. We got to hear pundit debates on television regarding the Purge and how it might be affecting society. Everyone agreed that it worked, but was it working because it allowed the populace the freedom to vent their aggression and violence, or did it work because the victims during the Purge were often the impoverished (those unable to hide or protect themselves), thus alleviating much of the pressure on the economy.

So while DeMonaco did touch on some of these questions, he barely scratched the surface of exploring the impact that this one night has had on our culture. And at a runtime of only 85 minutes, there was definitely room for more.

While not perfect and carrying some questionable plot developments late in the game, I still found myself engaged and enjoying it. DeMonaco did a good job of building tension in the middle of the film. There were some truly suspenseful moments. The messaging got a bit heavy-handed at times, but the premise was still a fascinating one.

But still – despite its flaws, I enjoyed The Purge and am happy that it is doing so well. Films like The Purge are always an interesting addition to horror because they offer something a little different. Siege and home invasion films have been done a thousand times before, but when you set them against an interesting backdrop, they become something altogether new.  While not a masterpiece, The Purge proved to be an interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking little piece of horror.